Medical research at La Trobe funded

La Trobe University researchers have been awarded $2.9 million in funding in the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Ideas Grants scheme.

Four La Trobe researchers have been funded to lead work on developing new life-saving treatments and diagnostic tools for serious diseases sepsis and cancer.

La Trobe’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Industry Engagement) Professor Susan Dodds said the funding would result in advances in medical treatment that benefit families and communities around the world.

“La Trobe researchers are focused on improving lives and health outcomes of people affected by disease. This funding will enable these four experts to lead advances in understanding and develop treatments, diagnostics and therapies for sepsis and cancer – two diseases that affect many individuals, families and communities.”

Professor Matthias Ernst, Director of Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, and Head of the La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine, where three of the researchers are based, congratulated the funding recipients.

“It’s a great outcome and privilege to see Australia’s peak National Funding body for medical research endorsing and supporting game changing research that takes place at La Trobe University and the associated Olivia Newton Cancer Research Institute towards finding new cures against cancer and sepsis.”

Ideas Grants

Associate Professor Hamsa Puthalakath, Biochemistry and Genetics, La Trobe Institute for Molecular Sciences – $653,000
A novel antibody-based treatment for polymicrobial sepsis

Sepsis or blood poisoning kills more than 7000 Australians every year and there is no cure for this disease. The researchers have used CRISPR gene editing technology to identify and characterize the receptor protein responsible death during sepsis in animal models. They also developed antibodies against the human counterparts of this receptor, and propose to test these antibodies in animal model and human sepsis patients. The project will test a diagnostic marker for sepsis-associated mortality in sepsis patients.

Dr Lisa Mielke, ONJCRI and La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine – $781,000
Investigation of novel immune pathways for improving cancer immunotherapy

The epithelium of the gastrointestinal tract separates our body from the intestinal content. Its barrier function is crucially promoted by immune cells named intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) that sense cellular stress and recognise microbial agents. The researchers have shown that IELs plays a critical role in preventing bowel cancer progression. The team propose to discover new genes and molecular pathways that promote the anti-cancer functions of IELs, leading to discovery of novel drug targets to treat bowel cancer.

Professor Robin Anderson, ONJCRI and La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine – $768,800
Breast Cancer Dormancy – Mechanisms and Development of Rational New Therapies

More than 85 per cent of breast cancer deaths are caused by the spread of cancer cells to vital organs, leading to organ failure and death. Once these secondary tumours establish, our current therapies are not effective, at best, they delay the growth and further spread of the cancer. Tumour cells can lie dormant for up to 20 years before relapse. The aim of this project is to test novel therapies for their ability to kill these dormant tumour cells before they can grow into new tumours.

Dr Delphine Merino, ONJCRI and La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine – $715,000
A novel genetic barcoding approach to identify the vulnerabilities of lethal breast cancer clones

Metastasis is the primary cause of mortality for patients with breast cancer. There is an urgent need to better understand how breast cancer cells spread and resist therapy, to find more effective ways to treat patients with metastatic disease. The project aims at identifying the molecular mechanisms responsible for the recurrence of the disease in vital organs.

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